Introducing Covenant Theology

Introducing Covenant Theology
Author: Michael Horton
Publisher: Baker Books, 2009.
ISBN: 9780801071959

I wish to thank the good people at Baker Books for sending me a copy to review.

Michael Horton’s book Introducing Covenant Theology was previously published under the title God of Promise in 2006. Even though it is a republished book, covenant theology is here to stay and has been around for a long time since the days of Reformation and may also be known as federal theology. Anyway, I like this new title better than the old one because it is more recognizable and well-known term in the world of Reformed theology. Horton’s book provides a very good indepth understanding into the background and underpinnings of covenant theology. It not only provides a good introduction but it goes in depth.

Horton presents the traditional view of Covenant Theology. He explains the difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace; and this provides a proper basis for law and gospel. But he also shows the continuity between the two. I have learned much from Horton’s theology of law and gospel, and faith and works, and have been thoroughly impressed by his presentation. Horton presents the theology from the ground up, and when one follows his case chapter by chapter, one will see connection between the old Mosaic covenant of works and Abraham’s new covenant of grace. Horton describes the difference between Mosaic and Abrahamic covenants:

The Abrahamic covenant rather than the Mosaic covenant establishes the terms of this arrangement. It is in this context that we better understand such passages as Jeremiah 31:32: “It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt” (NIV), and Galatians 3:17-18: “My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise” (NRSV) (p. 106).

The author distinguishes between the early suzerain treaty of Sinai, which is conditional and had its origins in the ancient Near East versus the unconditional royal grant, which are indicative with Noahic and Abrahamic covenants. This is a very important concept and Horton is careful to lay this groundwork. He seems to want to flesh out and unpack this covenant concept before he moves on.

Horton also distinguishes between the two covenants: 1) the covenant of law established at Sinai with Moses and has to do with Israel as a nation and its preservation of land; whereas, 2) the promise covenant of grace established with Abraham deals with personal election (salvation). This is also an important for Horton. He presents the different views of M.G. Kline, O. Palmer Robertson and Geerhardus Vos, amongst others.

Much of today’s New Covenant Theology would like to stake that the old covenant laws of Moses’ days are somehow outdated and are no longer in effect. But at the same time, they still claim some or much of the laws are still in effect in the new covenant, which seems rather inconsistent. If the old covenant was done away with, why are they repeating the old laws in the new? It is inconsistent, illogical, and does not make much sense. Horton, a proponent of traditional Covenant Theology, does not agree that the new covenant has been done away with, or abrogated. The old covenant, in and of itself, has not changed. The old covenant now only condemns those who are outside of Christ. Therefore, the new covenant is seen as a continuation of the old, and in effect, it fulfills the old. Furthermore, it is only new in the sense that those under the new covenant are no longer condemned by the old covenant laws.

Covenant theology is not exclusive to Reformed theology, or even with Calvinist theology. All three of these terms emphasizes different views and perspectives; however, they may hold many things in common too. Covenant theology is a theology within Reformed theology that emphasizes the concept of covenants; however, covenant theology is also home to some Lutherans. It was first developed in its elementary stages by Luther and Melanchthon but further developed, and matured, under the guidance of Reformed theologians. Therefore, as a Lutheran who is lacking in this understanding, I feel privileged to learn from Horton who masterfully lays out the development of covenant theology tracing its inception of suzerain treaties in the ancient near east to its later development in ancient Israel.

Horton’s book will be a very good academic text book for seminary students to understand traditional foundations of covenant theology. He presents the covenant concept systematically. I have to note that it may be tough slogging through the difficult concepts in this book, but a careful reader and student will be able to learn the theological underpinnings of this theology by reading and digesting through it slowly. Readers may even find that some parts of it to be complex and difficult to understand. It may take a while yet for me to completely digest everything, and I am sure many readers will also. I recommend this book for any student of theology who wishes to deepen their understanding of covenant theology and establish their basis for Reformed theology. Having read this book, I am happy to say that I now understand the difficult concepts in covenant theology better than I used to, so I thank Michael Horton for writing this book.

This book may be purchased from Amazon or CBD.

3 thoughts on “Introducing Covenant Theology

  1. Richard, thanks for the recommends. These are excellent books. I think I’ll be paying a lot more attention to his writings. They’re really thick and heavy stuff.

    I’m looking forward to reading his “The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way”. Some predict that it may become one of the top Reformed sytematic texts in the next few decades.


  2. Do check out his Covenant and Eschatology, Lord and Servant, Covenant and Salvation and People and Place. They’re excellent!


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